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A novel by Terry Pratchett
(1992, Victor Gollancaz Ltd)

Discworld Witches, book 4

The witches attempt to prevent nasty elves from returning to the Discworld, while Magrat adjusts to Palace life.


-- First reading (hardcover)
March 24th to 31st, 2004


I was underwhelmed by this book. The characters were the same ones that I have enjoyed for several books, now, but the story was quite bland. It is the characters that make these books, because the stories come and go. The appeal of this set of stories, however, is the humorous way the author writes. The stories themselves are not normally funny, except in isolated instances, but it is the way the author presents events, and especially thoughts, that makes the books funny.

Spoiler review:

In this case, there was little to laugh at. The witty writing style wasn't enough to make me laugh. The only one that I really laughed at was Nanny Ogg, who always saw the bright side of things.

Granny Weatherwax seems to have had a crisis after meeting Death in the last book. She feels old and ready to die. That is a sudden change even from what appeared in the last book, so I have trouble believing it. The only reason it exists is to make us wonder about her fate near the end.

It seems that the elfish people in the Discworld universe are evil, not deliberately so, but because they don't care about anything unless it gives them a laugh. So they kill and torture without thought. The exception is the Queen, who is very deliberate, and doesn't seem very elfish. The elves were banished a very long time ago, but it doesn't seem that long, based on some of the thoughts and actions we see from the humans. At this time, however, crop circles have started popping up (even in bowls of porridge...), which means that the various parallel universes are drawing together, and the magic that holds the elvish realm back is weak. With just a nudge, like people playing make-believe, or dancing around the protecting stones, the elves could break through.

The book takes a long time to get where it is going. There is a long setup where Granny teaches some young wanna-be witches a lesson, and one of them gets stung by an elvish arrow, after trying to help the elves come back by dancing around the stones, not realizing that the elves were evil. Nanny Ogg's son and his fellow village idiots practice a play by the stones after the young girls are stopped, finally completing the destruction of the magical bond, and releasing the elves into the kingdom of Lancre.

The people of Lancre are either given too much credit or not enough. Granny and Nanny agree that the people don't remember what it is like to have elves around, that they remember the beauty, not the evil acts. But when the elves finally do break through, people react very quickly to seal themselves away, putting horseshoes on the door, and leaving milk out to placate them. The turnaround is way too quick.

The same goes for Magrat. When Granny and Nanny bring the girl to her with an elvish arrow in her shoulder, Magrat says "elves are nice", and gets rid of all the iron (which is anathema to elves). She also doesn't believe elves are in the kingdom, despite what Granny told her. But when the elves finally do come into the castle, she runs from them immediately, and makes sure she has some iron weapons. The turnaround was way too fast, especially for Magrat. She even knows what the milk on the doorsteps is for, kicking it aside. For somebody who didn't know anything about elves, she sure learned quickly.

While the beginning of the book has Magrat trying to be a by-the-book Queen, mis-spelling words on her needlepoint, tripping over large gowns, and so on being bored and boring the reader, I absolutely loved her in action when the elves appeared. Watching her (figuratively speaking) putting on the armor, and actually killing the elves, was amazing. I hope we see more of her in charge, because it suits her.

On the other hand, when she finally confronts the elvish Queen, she fizzled. I was disappointed that she was overcome so easily by the mind powers, and that when she finally did break free (courtesy Granny Weatherwax), that she didn't let the axe drop. I was hoping that Magrat would become a powerful witch by defeating the Queen. She did a decent job, but it seems that she had to make the decision to be either a Queen herself, or a witch.

The entire ending of the book was weird. I was very disappointed that both Granny and Nanny were overcome by the Queen's mind powers, too, even though they were ready for it. Granny is so powerful at the end of the book with the unicorn, that she should have had the power to confront and defeat the Queen, especially with the help of the two other witches.

There are a lot of subplots in this book, which makes it disjointed, as well. Magrat and King Verence (from Wyrd Sisters) were mildly amusing trying to cope with their engagement, and what a ruling couple must do, sitting at opposite ends of a very long table, waiting anxiously for a book on what to do on the wedding night, although Nanny Ogg offered many suggestions. I liked her vulgar dance on the wedding table, to which Verence was taking notes! Ha!

In fact, Nanny Ogg was the single funniest part of the book. The only section where I actually laughed out loud was during Nanny's bath! After her encounter with the elves the first time (pulling Granny out of the circle of stones), she decided that she needed to be cleaned. It terrifies the neighbors ("it's not April yet!"), and even the cattle, mostly because of Nanny's bad fiddling and singing in the bath!

Nanny's thoughts were always running to the sexual, or the placating, or both! Hiding when the young witch insults Granny, or referring to the Long Man burial site (it was very suggestive, with a long mound and two round ones!), or eating dinner with Casanunda (who fell in love with her in Witches Abroad), she was definitely entertaining. I was amazed at how well Nanny and Casanunda got along, and I expect to see him pop up in future books.

It is Nanny who finds the solution to the whole mess, in appealing to the elf King, who lives under Long Man (which was so strange in itself). The end of the book sees the King sweeping the Queen away. Huh?

Another plot, which is supposed to make us think this is what keeps Granny from being in top form, concerns the visitors from the Unseen University, invited to the wedding. The chancellor is a wizard who was at one time smitten with Granny, before she was a granny, I suppose. They recognize each other instantly, and he still pines away for her. She is tempted, but knows her place. 

Granny is temporarily confused because of all the parallel universes so close together at circle time. She gets memories from other Grannies who made different choices. With the wizards from the University, it was quite funny to see the author poke fun at quantum physics research. Unfortunately, the author spends too much time off on random swings through the universe, which becomes irrelevant to the story.

One of my favorite characters in the book, because he was so well-developed, especially since he is a relatively new character, was Shawn Ogg. Since the kingdom of Lancre is so poor, Shawn gets to be everything in the Royal service. He guards the door (desperately trying to get his mother to announce herself), trumpets the arrival of the King and Queen, takes martial arts (compared to the book on marital arts that Verence thought he was getting), and so on. It was quite cute, and rather funny, as well. He even gets a rousing speech to gather the villagers to war on the elves.

Other than Nanny Ogg and Shawn, though, the book wasn't up to the standard of the others. It is definitely the weakest of the Granny books, at least since Equal Rites. The elves were not funny at all -not in the slightest- which means the other elements had to compensate, and they weren't enough. Ah, well, better luck next time.


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